Ownership questions need to be answered before library expansion

Posted 4/8/21

Powell Library boosters hope to move forward with a major upgrade to the facility. They envision a renovation project that would add a second story, and a facelift to make the exterior clean and …

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Ownership questions need to be answered before library expansion

Posted

Powell Library boosters hope to move forward with a major upgrade to the facility. They envision a renovation project that would add a second story, and a facelift to make the exterior clean and modern.

“It’s getting kind of creepy and old,” Geoff Baumann, chair of the Library Task Force, said during a February presentation to the Powell City Council. 

The expansion is not just an improvement on the aesthetics. The expanded square footage is needed, Baumann said, in order to be adequate for the town’s population. 

Park County commissioners have not committed to renovating the facility amid a tight budget, but they agreed to put out a request for proposals for a building consultant, after library backers agreed to cover the cost of those professional services. The responses to the RFP will be opened next week and a firm selected. That will be followed by planning public input sessions to get community feedback on whatever options the architects present.

The renovation is going to be costly and will require public funding, but first, officials need to out the dual ownership of the land the library sits on and the building that houses all the books. 

Over the course of the library’s 107-year history, the ownership of the land (which is leased to the library) and the building (which the county owns) got a bit muddled. So, Park County Library Board President Pat Stuart went

digging through old documents to sort it all out. 

The library’s current location — across from city hall at the intersection of Third and Clark streets — traces its roots back to 1914. That’s when a group of women asked the city if they could put a library at the site, on a plot known as Block 29. 

Block 29 was owned by the federal government, but the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to deed the land to the city — though with a requirement that the land only be used for the benefit of the community. Under the same federal program, the federal government granted the land the Homesteader Museum sits on.

However, in the case of the Powell Library, “the problem was the federal government had never actually deeded that land over to the city,” Stuart said. 

Somebody noticed this detail was overlooked, and in 1934, the city arranged to get the land under its legal ownership. The city then leased the land back to the library group under a 99-year lease, which will be up in February 2035. 

“We cannot, on that kind of uncertain lease situation, be putting a million-plus bucks into that building,” Stuart explained. 

Back in 1921, the group leading the charge for a library worked out a deal with the school district to buy the Fairview School, which was located out in the county. They then physically moved that one-room schoolhouse to Block 29.

At first, the front of the building was used as a school, and the library was in the rear. Then when a new school became available, the kids moved out and the library took up the whole building. Over the years, the library organizers added buildings and made improvements, and the county took over ownership of the building. The land, however, remained with the city.

“Nobody thought about that darn lease. Nobody thought about the land at all,” Stuart said. 

It put the Park County Library Board in a difficult position, because funding a building renovation on a building that one government entity owns, but sits on land a separate government entity owns, creates complications that can hinder the process of securing funding. It also is problematic that the lease will be up in just 12 years. 

Further complicating the matter was the fact the county assessor’s office showed the land as being owned by the Library Club of Powell. 

“The assessor’s records just happen to be wrong,” Stuart said. 

She says that, as convoluted as this all may be, the solution isn’t particularly difficult. It depends on what the county and city need and can agree to in terms of the long-term future of the library and the land. Stuart suggests a transfer of ownership from the city to the county, a quitclaim from the city to the county, or renewal of the long-term lease from the city to the county (and not a club). Any of those options would consolidate the dual ownership issue. 

“It’s really very simple,” Stuart said.

Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric said he isn’t sure what the county or the city will pursue. He would only say this week that the issue is being explored. 

“Stay tuned,” Skoric said.

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